Spaghetti has become an iconic dish in more than one way. Pasta, for one, is what people think of spaghetti when they hear the word. Italian cuisine, for another, is what people think of where spaghetti comes from. Learn more about this fantastic dish with these 30 spaghetti facts.
- Spaghetti noodles average between 25 to 30 cm long.
- Italians each consume on average around 28 kg of spaghetti per year.
- Italy alone produces an estimated 1.43 million tons of spaghetti per year.
- Statistics estimate Italy could produce up to 3 million tons of spaghetti.
- On average, Italy exports only around 74,000 tons of spaghetti per year.
- Circumstantial evidence suggests that the ancient Greeks may have had dishes similar to pasta.
- The Talmud makes the first historical mentions of pasta in the 5th century A.D.
- The Arabs brought pasta with them to Europe during the Muslim Conquest of Sicily during the 9th and 10th centuries.
- Sicilians developed the first recognizably-modern spaghetti noodles during the 12th century.
- Spaghetti and other pasta became a staple food aboard exploration ships from the 15th to 17th centuries.
- Spaghetti truly became popular with the mass production of spaghetti noodles in the 19th century.
- Italian restaurants brought spaghetti with them to the USA at the start of the 20th century.
- A Canadian company in the 1920s claimed that Marco Polo originally brought spaghetti with him back from China in the 13th century.
- The British TV series Panorama featured a hoax about Spaghetti Trees in Switzerland on April Fool’s Day in 1957.
- A California restaurant holds the world record for the largest spaghetti bowl, by filling a swimming pool with 6,251 kg of noodles.
- Spaghetti comes from the Italian word spaghetti, derived from spago, meaning “thin string”.
- Spaghetti noodles use a different kind of flour made from durum wheat instead of common wheat.
- Thicker variants of spaghetti noodles have the name spaghettoni, while thinner variants have the name capellini.
- Nutrients in spaghetti include B vitamins, carbohydrates, fiber, iron, potassium, and protein.
- Spaghetti Western was coined because of how Italians own and produce these films.
Spaghetti noodles aren’t all that hard to make.
The basic ingredients for the dough include only pasta flour and water. The resulting ball of dough is rolled into a long, sausage-like shape, before getting pulled by the ends to make it thinner. Then, bringing the ends together to form a loop. After which pull apart the loop into two new sausage-like rolls. The process repeats until the pasta reaches the desired thinness. Finally, the spaghetti noodles are hung up to dry.
Alternatively, cutting sheets could just cut noodles out of the dough, or the dough could get fed into a hand-rolled pasta machine. A pasta machine would force the dough against a filter with many small holes, forcing the dough to come out in its final, spaghetti form.
Even factory-produced spaghetti noodles use simple processes to make.
They are made using the same principles as hand-rolled pasta machines have, only on a much larger scale. That said, they also include special equipment to maintain an even mix of ingredients when preparing the flour, to maintain an even quality of the final product.
Industrial spaghetti production also requires water cooling systems to keep the noodles from overheating and spoiling. It also requires moisture control to balance the degree of dryness the noodles have. On one hand, the noodles need enough dryness to keep them from sticking together, but too much dryness would cause them to crumble. Packaging materials vary from simple paper wrappings to plastic bags and boxes.
Some spaghetti noodles use different ingredients.
These include whole-wheat and multigrain flour, both of which produce noodles with higher fiber content than ordinary pasta flour. Most commercially-available spaghetti noodles also use enriched pasta flour to increase their nutritional value. In fact, nutritionists recommend using enriched flour, as the process of milling grain to make flour reduces its vitamin and mineral content.
Specialist noodles also exist, including ingredients such as cheese, mushrooms, spinach, tomatoes, and various herbs and spices to add flavor to the noodles even without a sauce. Other noodles substitute pasta flour with rice flour, cornflour, or even potato flour. These noodles are marketed to people suffering from various gluten-related disorders, such as coeliac disease or wheat allergy.
The simplicity of cooking spaghetti noodles varies.
The general process simply involves boiling the noodles in salt-seasoned water until it softens, before draining them using a colander. Traditionally, spaghetti gets cooked al dente, or “to the tooth” in Italian, meaning cooked while keeping a firm texture. However, noodles cooked longer produce a softer consistency, something that nutritionists argue against. The digestive system finds it harder to process soft pasta and even extracts fewer nutrients from it.
The cooking time for spaghetti noodles varies with its thickness, with thicker noodles taking longer and thinner noodles taking shorter. Angel hair pasta typically takes the quickest time to cook, only between two and six minutes long. In contrast, spaghettoni can take up to 12 minutes to cook, while most spaghetti noodles only need around 10 minutes to cook.
Spaghetti has several common variants.
Traditional Italian spaghetti involves noodles served with tomato sauce, simply seasoned with various herbs like basil and oregano. It also features ground cheese on top, usually Parmesan, but other hard cheeses like Pecorino Romano and Grana Padano may substitute for Parmesan.
Carbonara makes up another common variant of the spaghetti dish and a very popular one at that. In fact, it’s the iconic white sauce spaghetti dish, with the sauce made from eggs, cheese, bacon, and seasoned with black pepper.
Common variants of the traditional tomato sauce, though, include Amatriciana sauce. It takes its name from the town of Amatrice in Italy and features a tomato-based sauce including cured pork cheek, Pecorino Romano cheese, and onions.
Spaghetti Bolognese isn’t actually an Italian dish.
It takes its name from the Bolognese sauce served with the noodles, featuring a tomato-based sauce cooked with ground meat. The sauce takes its name from the Italian city of Bologna, but Italians never serve it with spaghetti noodles, and with flat pasta instead.
Serving it with noodles only became popular in the USA, with Italians seeing it as an inauthentic dish as a result. In fact, this has led some sources to refer to Spaghetti Bolognese as American spaghetti instead. Regardless, American cultural domination has led this variant of spaghetti to become iconic worldwide. A popular variant of this dish replaces the ground meat in the sauce with meatballs instead, leading to the name of spaghetti and meatballs.
The Filipino spaghetti is a derivation of the American spaghetti.
Its distinctive features are sliced hotdogs added to the sauce and either sugar or banana ketchup to make it sweeter. The use of banana ketchup goes back to WWII when the Japanese occupation resulted in a sugar shortage in the Philippines. This led to the development of banana ketchup as a sugar substitute, which remained popular in the country even after the war.
The use of the sweetened sauce and the addition of hotdogs make Filipino spaghetti very inauthentic to Italian diners. However, it remains very popular in the Philippines. Critics generally attribute this to the Filipino fondness for sweet dishes and recipes.
Naples has its unique variant of spaghetti, spaghetti aglio e olio.
Its name literally means spaghetti with garlic and olive oil, referring to the dish’s other ingredients beside spaghetti noodles. A staple of Neapolitan cuisine, it enjoys widespread popularity not just in Italy, but worldwide. Critics attribute its popularity to its simple ingredients, as well as the dish’s ease of preparation.
First, saute the garlic in olive oil and season with red pepper flakes. Then, toss with freshly-cooked spaghetti noodles. Unlike other spaghetti dishes, spaghetti aglio e olio does not get served with cheese, but it’s offered as an option when served in restaurants. Some variants of the dish see pasta water mixed with the oil to produce a sauce, but Italians see the result as inauthentic to Italian cuisine.
The village of Nerano near Naples also has a popular variant of spaghetti, spaghetti ala Nerano.
It gained its name not only to honor its origins but also to set it apart from other pasta dishes with zucchini as an ingredient. Developed by local restaurant owner Maria Grazia, part of its fame comes from the secrecy of the recipe.
This led many chefs around the world to try and replicate the dish, but no exact recreation has ever succeeded. Generally, spaghetti ala Nerano involves zucchini fried in olive oil, before getting tossed with spaghetti noodles, butter, and cheese. The original dish and the most accurate recreations use Nerano’s own Provolone de Monaco cheese. However, Caciocavallo or Parmesan can also serve as substitutes.
Rome and the Campania region have spaghetti ala vongole.
Its name literally means spaghetti with clams, specifically carpet-shell clams, vongola verace. Live clams are cooked with garlic in olive oil. Upon cooked, they open their shells to release their flavor. Finally, add white wine to thicken the sauce. South Italian versions of the dish also add tomatoes and basil. Continue tossing the sauce with cooked spaghetti noodles, and finally season with salt, pepper, and parsley.
American versions of the dish sometimes substitute them with cherrystone clams instead. They may also add cream to the dish, but Italians consider this as making the dish very inauthentic. One food critic even described doing so as completely alien to Italian cuisine in general, as the cream ruins the dish’s flavor and texture.